CONVERTS WHO CHANGED THE CHURCH
Jewish-Born Clerics Helped Push Vatican II Reforms
50 Years Ago: Vatican II changed the Vatican’s positions on key issues including the church’s teachings on Jews. Many of the intellectual forces behind the reforms were converts from Judaism
BY JOHN CONNELLY
Forward (NY Zionist newspaper) July 30, 2012
With an Afterword by Michael Hoffman
Nostra Aetate confirmed that Christ, his mother and the apostles were Jews, and that the church had its origin in the Old Testament. It denied that the Jews may be held collectively responsible for Jesus Christ’s death, and decried all forms of hatred, including anti-Semitism. Citing the Letter of St. Paul to the Romans, Nostra Aetate called the Jews “most beloved” by God. These words seem commonsensical today, but they staged a revolution in Catholic teaching.
Despite opposition from within their ranks, the bishops knew that they could not be silent on the Jews. When the document stalled in May 1965, one of them explained why they must push on: “The historical context: 6 million Jewish dead. If the council, taking place 20 years after these facts, remains silent about them, then it would inevitably evoke the reaction expressed by Hochhuth in ‘The Deputy.’” This bishop was referring to German playwright Rolf Hochhuth’s depiction of a silent and uncaring Pius XII in the face of the Holocaust. That was no longer the church these bishops wished to live in.
The problem was, they had possessed no language of their own with which to break the silence. More than most academic disciplines, theology is a complex thicket with each branch guarded by a prickly coterie of experts. Those wanting to grasp the complexities of the church’s relations to Jews had to study eschatology, soteriology, patristics, Old and New Testament, and church history through all its periods. The bishops thus found themselves relying on tiny groups of experts who had cared enough to amass the unusual intellectual qualifications for this task.
As I discovered while researching my recently published book, From Enemy to Brother: The Revolution in Catholic Teaching on the Jews, 1933–1965, these experts did not begin their work in the 1960s. From outposts in Austria and Switzerland, several had tried to formulate Catholic arguments against anti-Semitism under the shadow of Nazism three decades earlier. They were as unrepresentative of Catholicism as one can imagine. Not only were they, Central Europeans, brave enough to stand up to Hitler when it counted, but they mostly had not been born Catholic. The Catholics who helped bring the church to recognition of the continuing sanctity of the Jewish people were converts, many of them from Jewish families.
Most important was Johannes Oesterreicher, born in 1904 into the home of the Jewish veterinarian Nathan and his wife, Ida, in Stadt-Liebau, a German-language community in northern Moravia. As a boy, he took part in Zionist scouting and acted as elected representative of the Jews in his high school, but then, for reasons that remain inexplicable (he later said he ”fell in love with Christ”), Oesterreicher took an interest in Christian writings (Cardinal Newman, Kierkegaard and the Gospels themselves), and under the influence of a priest later martyred by the Nazis (Max Josef Metzger) he became a Catholic and then a priest. In the early 1930s he took over the initiative of the Diocese of Vienna for converting Jews, hoping to bring family and friends into the church. In this his success was limited. Where he had an impact was in gathering other Catholic thinkers to oppose Nazi racism.
To his shock, Oesterreicher found this racism entering the work of leading Catholic thinkers, who taught that Jews were racially damaged and therefore could not receive the grace of baptism. His friends in this endeavor included fellow converts like philosopher Dietrich von Hildebrand and the theologian Karl Thieme and political philosopher Waldemar Gurian. In 1937, Gurian, Oesterreicher and Thieme penned a Catholic statement on the Jews, arguing, against the racists, that Jews carried a special holiness. Though it constituted orthodox teaching, not a single bishop (let alone the Vatican) signed on.
Oesterreicher escaped Austria when the Nazis entered, in 1938, and continued work from Paris, broadcasting German-language sermons into the Reich, informing Catholics that Hitler was an “unclean spirit” and the “antipode in human form,” and describing Nazi crimes committed against Jews and Poles. In the spring of 1940 he barely eluded an advance team of Gestapo agents, and via Marseille and Lisbon he made his way to New York City and ultimately Seton Hall University, where he became the leading expert on relations with Jews in America’s Catholic Church.
Oesterreicher gradually abandoned his “missionary” approach to the Jews and increasingly called his work ecumenical. He and like-minded Christians tried to figure out how to ground their belief in continued vocation of Jewish people in Christian scripture.
If the battle before the war was against the superficial assumptions of Nazi racism, after the war it took aim at the deeply rooted beliefs of Christian anti-Judaism. In the former period, the converts argued that, yes, Jews can be baptized. In the second period, even if they continued to believe that Jews must be baptized to escape the curse of rejecting Christ, these thinkers began pondering the nature of the supposed curse.
If history was a series of trials sent to punish the Jews for failing to accept Christ, then what meaning did Auschwitz have? Were the Nazis instruments of God’s will, meant to make the Jews finally turn to Christ? To answer yes to this question was obscene, but it was the only answer Catholic theology provided as of 1945. In the years that followed, the converts had to stage a revolution in a church that claimed to be unchanging. They did so by shifting church teaching to Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapters 9–11, where the Apostle, without speaking of baptism or conversion, proclaims that the Jews remain “beloved of God” and that “all Israel will be saved.”
Like Oesterreicher, the thinkers who did the intellectual work that prepared this revolution were overwhelmingly converts. Soon after the war, Thieme joined with concentration camp survivor Gertrud Luckner to publish the Freiburger Rundbrief in southwest Germany, where they made crucial theological breakthroughs on the path to conciliation with the Jews. In Paris, the Rev. Paul Démann, a converted Hungarian Jew, began publishing the review Cahiers Sioniens and, with the help of fellow converts Geza Vermes and Renée Bloch, refuted the anti-Judaism in Catholic school catechisms.
In 1961, Oesterreicher was summoned for work in the Vatican II committee tasked with the “Jewish question,” which became the most difficult issue to face the bishops. At one critical moment in October 1964, priests Gregory Baum and Bruno Hussar joined Oesterreicher in assembling what became the final text of the council’s decree on the Jews, voted on by the bishops a year later. Like Oesterreicher, Baum and Hussar were converts of Jewish background.
They were continuing a trend going back to the First Vatican Council in 1870, when the brothers Lémann — Jews who had become Catholics and priests — presented a draft declaration on relations between the church and Jews, stating that Jews “are always very dear to God” because of their fathers and because Christ has issued from them “according to the flesh.” Without converts to Catholicism, it seems, the Catholic Church would never have “thought its way” out of the challenges of racist anti-Judaism.
The high percentage of Jewish converts like Oesterreicher among Catholics who were opposed to anti-Semitism makes sense: In the 1930s they were targets of Nazi racism who could not avoid the racism that had entered the church. In their opposition, they were simply holding their church to its own universalism. But by turning to long-neglected passages in St. Paul’s letter to the Romans, they also opened the mind of the church to a new appreciation of the Jewish people.
What were the impulses behind their engagement after the war? In a generous review of my book in The New Republic, Peter Gordon suggests that the converts’ willingness to advocate for the other was driven by a concern for the self. They had retained a sense of themselves as Jews even in the Catholic Church.
Gordon reminds us of Sigmund Freud’s skepticism about the possibility of love of other. True love, Freud believed, “was always entangled with narcissism: it is not the other whom I love but myself, or at least it is only that quality in the other which resembles me or resembles the person I once was.” Yet in Oesterreicher we see an enduring solidarity with the community that once was his, most immediately his family. In 1946 he pondered the fate of his father, who had died of pneumonia in Theresienstadt (his mother was later murdered at Auschwitz). Contrary to the ancient Christian idea that there is no salvation outside the church, Oesterreicher did not despair for his father. Nathan Oesterreicher had been a just man, to whom the “beatitude of the peacemakers applied.” If Oesterreicher, the son, had been a true narcissist, he might have rested content in the belief that he was saved through baptism. Yet intense love and longing for his Jewish father began opening Oesterreicher’s mind to the possibility that Jews could be saved as Jews.
The lasting gift of the converts who helped rewrite Catholic teaching on the Jews was to extend their familial sense of solidarity to us, to Jews and Christians. In 1964, Oesterreicher personally crafted that part of Nostra Aetate according to which the church no longer speaks of mission to the Jews, but looks forward to the day when all “peoples will address the Lord in a single voice and ‘serve him shoulder to shoulder.’” (The last phrase is taken from Zephaniah 3:9.) With this new teaching, the church gave up the attempt to turn the other into the self, and after this point Catholics involved in Christian-Jewish dialogue tend not to be converts. They live out of the new understanding that Jews and Christians are brothers. The converts crossed a border to the other while in some deep sense remaining themselves, but by recognizing the legitimacy, indeed the blessing, of our differences, they helped bring down a wall separating Jews and Christians.
John Connelly is professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley.
Afterword by Michael Hoffman
This essay by Mr. Connelly is based on a flagrant misrepresentation of the doctrine of St. Paul. Clearly Catholics will only be absolved of the charge of “anti-semitism” when they have completely abandoned the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and adhere to a false Christ and a false Gospel in the name of Christ.
There are a few lines toward the end of Romans 11 (not Romans 9 and 10), that when taken out of context can be used to support the Talmudic racial pride of persons who describe themselves as “Jews.”
Romans 11: 26-27: And so all Israel shall be saved, as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob, for this is my covenant unto them when I shall take way their sins.
This is very different from the spin Connelly has applied. Israel is going to be saved by the Messiah Jesus Christ (“the Deliverer”). Saved from what? Saved from their sins by turning away from their ungodliness. Does Prof. Connelly even once mention the sins of ancient Jews and modern Judiacs, or their ungodliness? No, he is too busy aggrandizing their racial pride. For this reason he is an enemy, not a friend, of the Judaic people. Encouraging self worship is a grave transgression of God’s grace and plan of salvation, and a sure path to destruction for any people.
Notice what Connelly has omitted. The Apostle Paul does not say that all the Jews of every age would be saved. He showed that a majority of them in his time were lost to sin. Connelly in his fabrication of a Pauline Jewish utopia dare not mention why St. Paul is hated by Orthodox rabbis. It was Paul who said that the Jews killed the Lord Jesus Christ and are contrary to all men (I Thessalonians 2:15). The basis of Nostra Aetate just went out the window in one fell swoop of St. Paul’s pen. Paul wasn’t speaking racially, but spiritually/ideologically. He himself was a Jew as were all the apostles of the earliest days of the Church. But when a person converts to the Gospel of Jesus Christ he is no longer of Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam or Judaism. He is a new person and a new identity in Christ. The supposed “converts” from Judaism to Catholicism who are the subject of the preceding essay never abandoned their Judaic race pride. Connelly approves of a reviewer's statement that, "They had retained a sense of themselves as Jews even in the Catholic Church.”
Romans 11: 28-31: As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies for your sake; but as far as election is concerned, they are beloved on account of the patriarchs, for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable. Just as you who were at one time disobedient to God have now received mercy as a result of their disobedience, so they too have now become disobedient in order that they too may now receive mercy as a result of God's mercy to you.
How has the Church from its inception, publicly interpreted this passage, until the revolution of the 20th century? “Beloved” — this signifies that God still looks up on them with interest and intends to do them good. Nothing here implies that God approves of their conduct or their disobedience. What is the mercy of God toward them? That Israelites alive some time in the future will be converted to Christ.
Connelly the Jew-hater tries to give “the Jews” security in their sins, as all diabolically inclined ecumenicists do. He is encouraging them to continue in their disobedience and refusal of Christ. Why not, since they are saved by their race. Authentic Christians know from the words of Jesus Christ and John the Baptist that this cannot be true, and that this is a new and false Gospel.
Connelly doesn’t even take all of Paul in context, much less Jesus and John the Baptist. In Romans 2: 5-7 and 8-10, St. Paul declares: “In the rigid obstinancy of your heart you are laying up for yourself a store of retribution for the day of retribution, when God’s just judgment will be revealed and he will pay every man for what he has done...Those who are governed by selfish ambition, who refuse obedience to the truth and take the wrong for their guide, there will be the fury of retribution. There will be grinding misery for every human being who is an evil-doer, for the Jew first and for the Greek also.
Romans 2:11: For God has no favorites. Romans 3:9: Are Jews any better off? No, not at all!
Throughout his essay, Prof. Connelly encourages Judaics in their racial self-worship and attempts to make gentiles guilty for not encouraging this destructive pride. Is this of Christ? Connelly writes: “Jews carried a special holiness...Jews are always very dear to God...because Christ has issued from them according to the flesh...intense love and longing for his Jewish father began opening Oesterreicher's mind to the possibility that Jews could be saved as Jews.”
In other words, they don’t need Jesus Christ to be saved. We ask Mr. Connelly if it is true that race is the basis of their salvation and not the Messiah of Israel, why was Jesus' first mission of conversion “to the lost sheep of the House of Israel”? Was He mistaken and confused? (These are negative characteristics attributed to Him by the Babylonian Talmud). Or did Jesus know what He was talking about when He said to the Jews who bragged of being Abraham’s progeny: “If you were Abraham’s children you would do the works Abraham did, but now you seek to kill me, a man who who has told you the truth that I heard from God” ((John 8: 39-40).
St. Paul is not God. We don’t filter the words of Jesus Christ through the apostle Paul. Paul’s words must be understood in conformity to the light of the doctrine of Jesus Christ, who told the Jewish braggarts who were boasting of their racial status that they were Abraham’s children only if they did the works of Abraham. By this Jesus was referring to the faith of Abraham. These Jews had no faith in Jesus and hence they were not Abraham’s children.
They were indeed Abraham’s children according to the flesh. By rejecting their Messiah and committing their accursed oral traditions of Babylon and Egypt to writing after the crucifixion of Israel’s Messiah, they created a “Synagogue of Satan”consisting of the religion of carnal, counterfeit Israel, as was foretold in Rev. 2:9 and 3:9.
The Pharisees also bragged to John the Baptist concerning their presumed status as The Holy People. This race pride is the very hallmark of the Pharisee, then as now. The Pharisees told St. John, “We have Abraham for Our Father.” If John the Baptist had been a Second Vatican Council modernist, he would have replied, “I know that. Your racial status absolves you of your sins and of any obligation to believe on Jesus Christ to be saved.”
Unfortunately for con-artists like Professor John Connelly of the University of California at Berkeley, St. John replied, “Do not presume to say to yourselves ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children from Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the tree. Every tree that does not bring forth good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3: 9-10).
Jesus said the children of Abraham are defined as those who do the works of Abraham. St. John the Baptist stated that the children of Abraham are identified as those who bear good fruit. For this reason St. Peter declared that it was the Christians of whatever nationality who "are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation.” No racial qualification applied, but people like Connelly and a host of other illusionists are trying to inject racism back into the Church in the double-crossing name of combating racism: "Oesterreicher and Thieme penned a Catholic statement on the Jews, arguing, against the racists, that Jews carried a special holiness.”
Do you see the diabolic double-mind being pushed on Catholics, and by extension, all people? We’re not holy, as St. Peter declared, but those who reject Jesus Christ are specially holy and confirming this exalted, Christless racial status is a means of being “against the racists.”
Zionist and Talmudic racists are not an issue. Why doesn't Prof. Connelly refer to the racists among the rabbis who declare that a thousand Arabs are not worth one Jewish finger nail? Or that Jewish blood is worth more than gentile blood? Or that Arab babies can be murdered as a form of preventive warfare, and Palestinians should be exterminated?
And what of the people today who imagine they are the genetic descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and in fact are not? Are these Christ-denying gentiles saved by claiming to be Jews? Are descendants of the Khazars who say they are Jews saved by — what? Race? Which race? This is the type of ambiguity, confusion and uncertainty sown by any race-based theology of salvation.
Connelly is so ignorant of the beliefs of key 20th century rabbis that he writes, "If history was a series of trials sent to punish the Jews for failing to accept Christ, then what meaning did Auschwitz have? Were the Nazis instruments of God's will, meant to make the Jews finally turn to Christ? To answer yes to this question was obscene...”
Well, Prof. Connelly, you just condemned as “obscene" Shas Grand Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, as well as Grand Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the late messiah of Chabad-Lubavitch, both of whom taught that Hitler was God’s avenging angel on masses of “Jews” who had abandoned the study of the Talmud. (Cf. Judaism’s Strange Gods [2011 edition], pp. 37-39).
In spite of his ignorance, Connelly accuses the Church of being ignorant of the basics of the New Testament, having taught in public for 1900 years contrary to the Second Vatican Council: "In the years that followed, the converts had to stage a revolution in a church that claimed to be unchanging. They did so by shifting church teaching to Paul's letter to the Romans, chapters 9–11.”
Connelly wants us to believe that until Judaic converts to Catholicism got to work in the late 19th and 20th centuries, all of the early Church Fathers, Councils, popes, theologians and saints were ignorant of the true meaning of Paul’s letter to the Romans! This kind of absurd hyperbole robs Connelly of any chance of being taken seriously by anyone conversant with historic Christianity.
Another diabolic dimension to Connelly’s subtle Jew-hate consists in him putting the onus for the revolution almost entirely on the backs of Judaic converts, repeatedly apportioning to them alone the falsification of the Gospel. Here’s a bulletin for you, professor: the modernist movement at work inside the bowels of the Church was led and directed by gentiles throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. The men most responsible for the revolution were four popes: Roncalli (John XXIII), Montini (Paul VI), Wojtyla (John Paul II) and Ratzinger (Benedict XVI); gentiles everyone, along with a legion of their cardinals, bishops and periti; again almost exclusively gentiles.
Is it not somewhat strange that Connelly seek to stigmatize Judaic converts generally as subversive of tradition, without offering any countering examples of loyal Catholic Judaics? He makes no mention in his essay in Forward newspaper of the fact that the Catholic Church was well-served by many illustrious Judaic converts who left their ethnic identity behind them when they took up Christ’s Cross. St. Theresa of Avila and St. John of the Cross (in whose writings one will find not an iota of Talmudic mentality), were descended of such Judaic converts. In the 1950s, Catholic convert David Gordon, father of author Mary Gordon, carried a heavy wooden cross through Harvard Square at noon in repentance for his sins in his past life as a Judaic. Gordon, and thousands of other unsung converts like him, were loyal sons of the Church, untainted by any revolution. Many converted under the unreconstructed papacy of the much maligned Pope Pius XII.
Berkeley Professor of History John Connelly fairly gloats at the idea that, thanks to the revolution inside the highest levels of Catholicism, “the church no longer speaks of mission to the Jews.” With friends like him, Judaic people don’t need any enemies.
Michael Hoffman is the author of Judaism’s Strange Gods and the editor of Revisionist History newsletter.